FIRST ROUND EAST ACTION: HACKER AND COLE

 

 

 

Marilyn Hacker enjoys first seed status in the East bracket. She has a line which feels iconic and boasts an existential romanticism:

You happened to me.

What are we to say to this? If the singer Jewel, who dabbles in poetry, wrote this, what would poets and critics of high regard say?

This is not a criticism of Hacker. In the March Madness Poetry tournament, run by Marla Muse and Scarriet, there is no “criticism.”

There is only wonder.

We cannot escape the vague feeling that “You happened to me,” which is Hacker’s most famous quote, is not original.

Jim Weatherly, born in 1943—a few months after our poet, Marilyn Hacker—wrote a hit song for two different artists in the 70s (Ray Price; Gladys Knight and the Pips):

“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”

You‘re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” hides the more interesting phrase.

Weatherly, the songwriter, can be found saying the following in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits:

“I thought it was really strange that nobody’d written a song with that title — possibly somebody had, but I’d never heard it — so I just sat down and let this stream of consciousness happen.”

Just as we now have the nagging suspicion that “You happened to me” is not original, so the man credited with “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” felt the same way about his creation.

It makes one wonder if a greater poet (or songwriter), ages hence, will thrillingly, yet doubtfully, stumble upon:

You Happened.

You Happen.

Stephen Cole, the last seed in the East, counters with something a little more complex:

Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

This, in its way, is somewhat like, “you happened to me.”

But Hacker refers succinctly, if powerfully, to the past.

Cole’s is tantalizingly and deliciously about the future, and the syntax of the sentence itself propels us into a future awareness—as well as the meaning: “time…arrives before your coming.” Like the essence of the line itself, “your coming” is forever deferred, and yet here.

This might be the time to ask, since we called the Hacker an “existential romanticism,” what is romanticism in poetry, and why is it important?

As the poet Shelley said, in his A Defense of Poetry, the “secret to morals is love”; in love we go out of ourselves and identity with another.

It is as simple as this: poetry brings two together: this is love, and this is romanticism, and this is always a virtue, not only in love, but in poetry, in language itself—whose purpose is to unite people, minds, intentions, etc.

“You happened to me” affects us on this principle; we witness, through language, you happening to me, and since we are all romantics at heart, we are moved both by the primitive idea and the concise manner in which the primitive idea is expressed.

This romantic/poetic principle resembles mathematics or physics: precisely how much force or attraction is produced?

Language can do remarkable things, but the question becomes, is it only language, or is it the language itself that lives, that has gravity—the language itself that loves you and me, and brings us together.

“You happened to me” is a marvelous example of language doing a marvelous thing—but only as language.

Does concision belong to language—or to concision?  The delight we feel when a great deal is said in a few words does not belong to language’s muscle, to language’s action, but to time, and time alone.

“Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming” is a wonderful example of language itself doing a marvelous thing.

We think, then, Cole wins.

Marla Muse: Oh! I like it!

 

 

 

 

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